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Interview with Alan Maley

alan_maley.gifAlan Maley worked for The British Council from 1962 to 1988, serving in Yugoslavia, Ghana, Italy, France, China, and South India. From 1988 to 1993, he was Director-General of the Bell Educational Trust in Cambridge. He is currently Senior Fellow in the Department of English Language and Literature of the National University of Singapore.


On ELT

ELTNEWS
What made you decide to enter the EFL profession? Do you remember your first lesson?
Alan
I didn't join the profession voluntarily: I was pushed. I joined the British Council in 1961 and they decided to send me to Leeds University to train for their English Language Officer cadre. Part of that year's training included 3 months practical teaching in Madrid.

I do recall my first lesson vividly. It was in a Convent for upper class young ladies near Atocha station. (Queen Fabiola of Belgium is said to have gone to the same school!) To get in I had to ring a bell at the iron-studded gate. A nun would then slide back a peephole, scrutinise me carefully and then let me in. My first class, with girls in early puberty, the only male they saw apart from their confessor, and with an aged and wrinkled nun sitting at the back (in case I exposed myself perhaps?), was unforgettable. I don't think any of the classes I conducted in those three months were much good frankly.
ELTNEWS
What major changes have you seen in ELT since you started in the profession? Have all the changes been positive?
Alan
I have been fortunate (?) to have lived through one of the major transformations in thinking/practice in ELT. When I came in, in 1962, the situational/structural paradigm held sway. There were relatively few materials to speak of. We were under the influence of Palmer, Daniel Jones, Firth and Hornby. Within a decade or so, everything was changing. The Chomskyan revolution had come (and gone?), Wilkins and the Threshold level had taken hold, and the new communicative wave was on the brink of unfurling.

There have, of course, been excesses in the movement for more communicative methods of teaching. But this is no doubt inevitable. In any case, teachers have a way of mediating new ideas in their own way!

On Teaching

ELTNEWS
In an earlier interview, Mario Rinvolucri credits Alan Duff and you for starting the 'wave' of teacher's resource books back in the 70's. To what extent do you think the ideas and activities contained in your books have contributed to teaching methodology in the last 20 years?
Alan
I think the ideas put about by some of the books I wrote with Alan Duff, back in the 1970s and early 80s have made a positive contribution to the field. It is difficult to quantify this however. I think we opened a window on possibilities hitherto not available. Some teachers flew through that window; others preferred not to look out. As far as the development of resource books is concerned (like the 'Oxford Resource Books for Teachers' series), I think these offer a bank of materials based on the combined experience of a number of 'master teachers' which many teachers worldwide find useful.
ELTNEWS
What aspect of ELT methodology are you interested in? What themes are you pursuing now?
Alan
a) The role of inner representations in acquiring language. I am thinking of visualization, rehearsal, inner speech etc. I think we have been led astray by SLA research, which I believe to be a blind alley, instead of looking more at psychological inquiry in the area of memory.

b) The role of the teacher as prime classroom resource: this leads to my concern with things like the way teachers use (misuse) their voices, the way they can create or destroy positive learning atmosphere, etc. I've just published a book with Macmillan entitled 'The Language Teacher's Voice', which articulates some of these concerns. After all, no matter what the method, it is the teachers who will make it work or not, as Stevick noted in his famous riddle many years ago.

c) I continue to pursue my interest in the use of literature as a language teaching resource. In particular, In am trying to incorporate texts drawn from the 'new' literatures in English (Inian, Singaporean, etc.) We have not yet realized quite what a rich field this is.

d) This links with my interest in writing original fiction for language learners. (What Bamford and Day term Language Learner Literature). I'm currently on my second 'novel' for the 'Cambridge Readers' Series, which only deals in originals.

e) Global issues. I am concerned about the way many of us assume that the spread of English is a benign and natural phenomenon. In fact, English has become the medium for some very nasty messages. Critical examination of the roles English plays in consumerism, the media, trivialization of our lives, etc. ought to be part of any course, I believe.
ELTNEWS
How will EFL be taught in 10 year's time? Do you see technology such as the Internet, CD-ROMs and DVD playing a big role in ELT?
Alan
How will English be taught in 10 years time? Who knows? Probably much like it is now - mostly badly. The advent of hi-tech does not of itself guarantee major changes, still less changes for the better. Junk in, junk out! Finding appropriate uses for existing technology should be a major concern, rather than becoming mesmerized by the technology itself. We should start from the point: "Here is a pedagogical problem; how can we solve it using technology?" Rather than "here is a wonderful new piece of technology; let's see what we might use it for." I grew up in the heyday of the language laboratory, and that probably colors my thinking somewhat. But I am in no way a pedagogical Luddite!

On Writing

ELTNEWS
When did you first think about writing an EFL text? How did you approach the publishers?
Alan
I didn't approach my first publishers; they approached me. This was while I was working in Ghana in the 1960s. They were called Thomas Nelson (anyone remember them?)
ELTNEWS
You are the Series Editor for OUP's Resource Book for Teachers and Primary Resource Books series. How did you get involved with the series?
Alan
I got involved in the OUP resource book series by accident too. Yvonne de Henseler, who was then the commissioning editor asked me if I'd be interested in getting involved back in the 80s. It fitted with my feelings about resource books as a counterbalance to sourcebooks, so I did it. Originally there were to have been a maximum of 12 titles in the series, but, like Topsy, it 'jes growed and growed' and there are now over 30 titles with more in the pipeline (including a super one on using Film by Barry Tomalin and Susan Stempleski, and a delightful new young learners title by Andrew Wright, Art and Craft with Young Learners.) There seems no end to the good proposals, which keep rolling in.
ELTNEWS
What advice would you give to potential course writers?
Alan
Advice? Don't do it! Unless you have grit, imagination and endless patience. If you have never published anything and would like to, my advice is to get a bit of experience first by writing book reviews, articles for teachers newsletters, etc. But being a writer is hard and lonely at times. And you don't see the fruits of your labors (if indeed you ever do) until long after the initial effort.

On Professionalism

ELTNEWS
How do you think the various teachers' associations around the world serve the ELT field?
Alan
I think the growth of professional associations like IATEFL and TESOL, both in numbers and in the scope of their action, is one of the most encouraging developments I have seen in my professional life. My advice to young teachers would be, "Join a professional association, and get involved with it."
ELTNEWS
What changes, if any do you want to see happen in the ELT field?
Alan
What changes would I like to see? I'd like to see a re-equilibration of the power relationship between the academic research/theorizing community (which has most of the power and prestige) and the classroom teaching community (where most of the work gets done.) What academics do is fine and perfectly valid in their community. But most of it is mistakenly taken to be relevant for a completely different community, with different needs, goals and aspirations.

On Alan

ELTNEWS
Away from ELT, how do you spend your time?
Alan
How do I spend my non-ELT time? Procrastinating mostly. Drinking wine, reading, writing unpublishable poetry, and thinking about death.
ELTNEWS
Finally. What has been your greatest satisfaction from working in the ELT profession?
Alan
Most satisfaction? The people I have met (from the great and the good to so-called 'ordinary' teachers) and the range of cultural experiences I have had. As Queen Anne is rumored to have said on her deathbed, 'It has all been very interesting.'



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Comments

How can I contact Mr Maley via e-mail? I would like to inquire if he would be willing to give a workshop kind of event for ELT teachers in Switzerland.
Best regards
Beatrice Bär


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